News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 14, 2011

Hey You! Learn to keep your audience’s attention

Heather Penney

---- — Boring! I think we have all been to a meeting that can be classified as boring! One of the most popular complaints about meetings is they tend to be monotonous. According to, American businesses conduct 11 million meetings a year, and attendees agree that more than 50 percent of that time is wasted. Most regular meeting attendees admit to daydreaming (91 percent), missing meetings (96 percent), arriving late or leaving early (95 percent), bringing other work with them (73 percent) or dozing off (39 percent).

Focusing and maintaining your audience’s attention is the challenge of meeting planners the world over. It really doesn’t take long to plan a meeting that will hold the attention of your audience. Listed below are some helpful tips to get you started.

So, there are actually things you can do to get the maximum productivity and attention from your audience.

Timing is everything. Try to avoid planning a meeting for Monday mornings, as people are trying to get their work week started. Friday afternoons are also bad, as people are trying to wrap up their work week in preparation for the weekend. And of course, after lunch, people tend to want to relax and kinda go into nap mode.

Invite the right people. Think about your invitation list. Who will benefit from the meeting? Why should they be there? Smaller groups tend to invite more open discussions. Research shows that between five and nine individuals is about the right amount of people for invigorating discussions to take place in a meeting. If you have a larger audience, then consider breakout groups.

Set a specific goal. Communicate to your audience why you are gathering and make sure they are well aware of the purpose.

Stay on track. Make sure you have an agenda and stick to it. Frustration will arise if you veer too far off your agenda and stay off your purpose for too long.

“When people communicate, they gain 10 percent of the meaning from words, 20 percent from delivery style and 70 percent from non-verbal cues and body language. The presenter and presentation are more important than the actual words in getting your message across. Meeting planners can take a tip from television, which uses the formula: tighten, dazzle and flow to rivet audience attention.

Tighten. Tighten the focus of the meeting by setting just one or two goals. Tighten your delivery with preparation and practice. Tighten control of the meeting environment by optimizing room temperature, ventilation and lighting. In a recent poll, poor speaking skills (monotone voice, repetition, over-gesturing and buzzword overuse), lack of direction and physical discomfort were most cited as causes for loss of concentration during meetings.

Dazzle. Be enthusiastic and share your passion or belief in the task or goal. Enthusiasm is contagious and engages the attention of participants. Use the tactics listed below to keep the meeting fresh and interesting. Wake people up by doing the unexpected: Meet in a restaurant instead of the conference room, play a game, switch visual media, solicit audience participation, etc.

Flow. Maintain continuity by sticking to your agenda and time frame.” (www.

In addition, there are proven methods to keep your participants engaged. The methods include:

Using humor. This will relax and put your audience at ease.

Offering refreshments. Cool, refreshing beverages and snacks will keep your audience alert.

Busy hands. Place puzzles and other items in front of your audience. Often people need something to do with their hands, let them know it is okay to “play.”

Engaging participants. This is kind of like the flying fishery in Seattle. Have a tennis ball or a nerf ball and toss it around the room when you want participation. The person that catches the ball must comment on the topic and then toss the ball to another participant.

Getting personal. Let participants share their views.

Show and tell. Don’t just lecture, be sure to use powerpoints and other items to bring visual content to the presentation.

Unlocking the mystery. Try to take abstract and interesting concepts and relate them to the participants’ lives. It will give a nice personal touch and relation for the audience.

Snappy endings. I like this idea especially. So often people get long-winded during wrap-ups of the meetings. Try giving each participant a blown-up balloon. If he feels someone is winding on too long, he can pop his balloon to “stop the hot air.”

In conclusion, we all have been in these types of meetings. Hopefully you have not hosted a “boring” meeting. If you have, consider implementing the above suggestions to engage your audience and make it more productive not only for the participants but also for you. In business, we often get comfortable in what is effective for us and neglect to consider our audience. You will be more respected by your audience, co-workers and employees if you can capture their attention and participation willingly.

Heather Penney is the regional director for Indiana State University’s Indiana Small Business Development Center.